Title, Company, and Location
Executive Assistant to the CEO, Maxim Integrated, San Jose, CA
Years as an Office Ninja
The one thing that’s ALWAYS on Tonya’s desk is a pocket charm featuring a ladybug AND a four-leaf clover. Two times the luck!
Editor’s Note: OfficeNinjas All-Star Awards is part of Admin+ Month (April 5–23, 2021), a fully virtual celebration of deep learning, global recognition, and frenzied fun.
Admin+ professionals wear many hats. Tonya Carter’s got one more to add to the list, and it’s a big one: entrepreneur. Tonya’s approach to her role as EA to the CEO at Maxim Integrated is guided by the question, “How am I an entrepreneur?” Her answer? She has the ability to empower others to succeed. She is a self-starter when it comes to proactively providing her skills and talents where and when they’re needed.
This isn’t to say Tonya jumps right in with both feet — on the contrary. She’s very intentional in everything she does for one simple reason: If her name is going to be on it, it’s going to be done right.
But this year did require some fast thinking, and Tonya more than rose to the occasion. From spearheading a new assistant development program focused on change management to managing Maxim’s Employee Homeschooling Exchange Summer Series, Tonya tackled every challenge that came her way with her signature calm, collected, and capable demeanor.
Given all she’s accomplished this year and in her 25+ years as an EA, Tonya was a lock for a 2021 OfficeNinjas All-Star Award. If you’re ready to think differently about the work you do, you won’t want to miss this one.
What path led you to this career and what makes it a good fit for you?
I’ve always been a curious person with a passion for learning. My first career was as a preschool teacher for a class of two-year-old students. I loved seeing the excitement in their eyes as they explored new things. This experience also gave me a timely head start on my parenting skills. (I started my family shortly after!)
After teaching, I changed careers and became an office manager for a small dental laboratory. This position had a diverse set of responsibilities and was a big challenge for me at the time. In my 12 years there, I increased profits by keeping their fee schedule current and streamlining the work process for lab technicians. My role evolved considerably, but I still wanted more, so I moved on to a larger company, where I started my career as an administrative professional.
I absolutely love being an EA! I have the privilege of working with a diverse group of teams at different levels, which lets me build my professional knowledge. I learn from the work I do and from the people I work with.
Where does your drive come from?
There was a time I felt my drive and motivation came from showing my children to always push forward. I later realized that my drive was there all along.
From an early age, my natural curiosity has been a driving force in my career. I guess I could call it a habit, but it’s always been there. Curiosity pulls me forward. It is about, “What if?” It reaches out to mentors and subject experts, and it is a pathway to growth. Curiosity isn’t interested in the way things have always been done.
Curiosity and fear go hand in hand. When I successfully accomplish tasks, I prove my fears wrong and grow in confidence.
For example, last year while the whole world faced a pandemic, Maxim was facing a merger. In both situations I quickly adapted, stayed calm, and focused on the needs at hand. At the onset of the pandemic, Maxim implemented MS Teams as our virtual communications platform. I embraced the new platform, developed user guides for our assistants, and ensured that everyone was adequately trained.
The California government also mandated a stay-at-home policy, which meant that not only were our employees working from home, but those with children were now homeschooling. What a daunting task for them! I worked closely with our HR and Legal department to launch an HQ Employee Homeschool Resource Exchange Teams channel that included summer activities for the children of our HQ employees. This project was a four-part weekly series in which the children were introduced to scavenger hunts, science experiments, a career path panel, and a Maxim “Chip Design Discussion” with Maxim employees. The kids and parents loved it!
What are you most proud of outside of work?
I derive a great deal of pleasure from making a positive impact in my community. I know that I’m fortunate to be working, and I get to help people and families in need by contributing my time and personal talents to nonprofits. I’ve received the Synopsys Community Champion Award, Synopsys Community Hero Award, and the Synopsys Spirit of Alisa Banuelos Award for my community involvement.
How do your team members help you succeed?
We are OneMaxim! Our CEO and Executive team provide useful tools and development opportunities to help us excel. They also have an open-door policy; we can approach them with questions or for advice. My CEO knows I have a desire to reach higher, and he is supportive of this goal. Our assistant community has the same mindset. Together, we have worked hard this year to motivate ourselves and our teams to succeed.
“Everything Tonya does is to help us be better at our job. After less than a year in her role, she stepped up to be the Assistant to our CEO. This was during the pandemic and the announcement of our merger with another company. She continued to come up with ideas to keep us motivated and has been an exceptional leader in all her new roles.” — Emma Miles, Executive Assistant, Maxim Integrated
How do you help your team members succeed?
I recently heard a CEO keynote in which the speaker said, “Everyone is an entrepreneur.” This made me apply the question, “How am I an entrepreneur?” to my own work life. I realized that I have the ability to empower and build up others to succeed, which also means putting the needs of an employer, person, or the community first. I provide my skills, encouragement, development tools, mentoring, and whatever else may be needed.
We recently held an Assistant Excellence Conference (AEC) at Maxim. This assistant-created, assistant-driven annual event for Maxim Global Assistants is also attended by our Executive staff and global employees. While I was planning our show-flow for the event, I added additional hosting responsibilities for other members of the assistant planning team. As the emcee of the conference, I encouraged the team to shine and take speaking parts. This allowed them to add real-world, public speaking experience to their skillsets.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
I truly hope my greatest professional achievement hasn’t happened yet! As for current achievements, when our CEO needed COVID-19 case data for our 31 global offices, I researched and found sources, maintained Excel databases, and updated him on important developments weekly. This ongoing project has been riddled with obstacles. For example, because not all nations are forthcoming with statistics, the task involved significant international outreach. I also had to debug the data.
I’m proud of my success on this project because I’m helping to keep our employees safe. For example, one of the countries tracked had a huge daily case count surge. One of Maxim’s international offices was in that country and was open to a percentage of our employees. I alerted our CEO and provided regional documentation around the surge. In response, he closed the office and thanked me. It was very satisfying to know that I made a positive impact by helping to keep our employees safe and healthy.
Tell us about a specific time you found success in failure.
Public speaking is a work in progress for me, to say the least. My first project-lead was a corporate community relations program for which I was in charge of managing a holiday food and fund drive, which included a hosted lunch for 2,000 employees. There were many details, including managing and training volunteers. As the lead, I was responsible for conducting training. This was my first public speaking experience. While I was confident with the material and the process, I froze in the moment. I felt like I failed. But not only did I somehow get through it, the volunteers did not see what I felt at all. That was a huge lesson on overcoming my fear of failure.
What does the “Admin+” unifier represent to you?
“Admin+” has many meanings for me. One is the representation of a title — not only an admin but any assistant professional. Another is that as we grow in our roles and are challenged with greater leadership responsibilities, we grow as a community. We wear many hats and have many responsibilities: change management, project management, crucial conversations, and more.
What’s something you’ve accomplished that you haven’t seen many others do?
At one point in my assistant career, I stepped away from being an assistant and moved into an HR training coordinator position. This was both difficult and scary because it meant leaving behind my peers and the activities we shared, and I wondered whether I’d succeed. In that role, I led and managed training programs, became a learning management system expert, tracked and analyzed training data, and created metric slides for executive quarterly reviews. After five years, I was promoted to program specialist with an enhanced set of project management and technical skills. I credit this positive outcome to my drive to succeed, the mentoring and leadership of my manager, and my empowering social circle.
How have you challenged the status quo to pave the way for yourself or others?
I don’t believe that any person is better than another because of stature. We are all here to work with one another at the level where we can best contribute.
When news broke of the merger, we knew that some employees would end up in different places with different people. I could have accepted this and waited for results, which would have been normal. Instead, I chose to go against the status quo and proactively sought ways to ready us for what was coming. Preparing for the unknown is deeper than assistant self-development; it’s also change management development.
This is why I implemented the Learning Journey, which focused on hard and soft skills development in order to support our teams through change.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s been the most impactful in advancing your career?
The move to HR had a huge impact on my career. I didn’t know at the time if it would be a good move or a bad move, and I risked not being hired back as an assistant. This was a huge risk, but I am thankful for it.
Prior to moving to HR, I worked for the Office of the President and co-CEOs, but my workload had decreased. The internal move turned out to be perfect as it allowed me to do what I love: gain new experience, knowledge, and confidence. Ultimately, I realized my professional passion: I wanted to be an assistant. And now here I am — Executive Assistant to a CEO and OfficeNinjas All-Star!
What’s your advice for Ninjas who are seeking career development opportunities but not finding them (or support for them) within their organizations?
When the merger was announced, fear immediately kicked in because I’d never been on this side of a merger before. Then I realized the tremendous opportunities for growth and innovation the merger could create for our assistants. We had to be prepared to capitalize on them.
While I encourage individual professional development, I wanted the team to work through our transition together. The Learning Journey is the perfect name for this program, as learning is a journey not a destination.
The program focuses on three main buckets:
- Organizational uncertainty
- Sharpening hard and soft skills
- Moving forward to stay relevant and marketable
This couldn’t have been achieved without the advocacy of our CEO and Executives. The advice I have for those seeking career development opportunities is to be proactive, do your research, find the opportunities, and take courses. You should also showcase your development to your executive to demonstrate that an investment in professional development produces effective outcomes. And most importantly, ASK for it.
This is how it started at Maxim.
- Ask for development programs.
- See executive support and advocacy from HR partners and learning and development groups.
- Advise your executive about the benefits — not just to you, but to the executive team, your group, and your organization. Tell them about the goals you plan to achieve.
- Sign up for the opportunities!
“Tonya did not skip a beat and took over as the leader of the program and is moving it to its next evolution. This program is very important for our global Office Ninjas. It advances productivity for their direct support executives and improves engagement of their entire group’s employees. The program is highly valued by our global assistants for career development.” — Tunc Doluca, President & CEO, Maxim Integrated
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You kicked off and managed Maxim’s Employee Homeschooling Exchange Summer Series. How did you go about implementing this innovative program?
We were all in unexpected territory when COVID started, and our employees were impacted by the shift to remote work and homeschooling. I contacted some other dynamic assistants on the team, and we created a core team for this project. We worked with our HR and Legal experts to determine what we legally could and could not do, then we aggressively moved forward on a framework and timeline. We found subject matter experts to facilitate each event, and worked closely with our communications team on announcements. We also managed enrollment, weekly event communications with participants, and moderated each event.
All of this was done by utilizing the virtual MS Teams platform and at no cost to Maxim. We had a lot of fun, and we got to meet employees and their children. The feedback we received was so positive! The children enjoyed themselves and were also happy to connect with their parents’ coworkers.
“Tonya coordinated the project and collaborated with the team to create a definite dynamic series. She was a true leader and really took a time that was hard for parents and children and manifested that moment into something positive.” — Ana Cunanan, Executive Assistant to the VP, Maxim Integrated
One of your nominators said that you do not “jump in” to leadership but rather watch, learn, and then “own” it. What are the benefits to this approach?
I credit my mom, stepdad, and dad for my ability to observe and learn. They taught me at an impressionable age to always obtain information first-hand as opposed to through hearsay. I don’t ever jump into anything, because when I “put my name on” or take ownership of something, I’m committing to completing the task as a top priority. There are a lot of successful people who can act quickly and pivot easily. I prefer to observe and take in the situation before coming up with a plan.
You were a presenter at the 28th Annual Conference for Administrative Excellence. Tell us all about it!
This speaking opportunity would not have happened without the legacy of my predecessor (and 2020 All-Star Team member), Nancy Nordberg. Initially, she was scheduled to speak about how she implemented assistant development at Maxim. We were initially going to present together timed with her retirement — a kind of passing of the torch. She was going to speak about how it started, and I would follow up with what’s coming next. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to speak so I sought out someone who knew Maxim and Nancy’s legacy, Maxim EA Catherine Clement.
This was an amazing career opportunity for both of us as it presented a platform for improving our visibility as assistant development pioneers. It was also out of both of our comfort zones, but we knew we had to represent Maxim to the fullest — for ourselves and for Nancy! I spoke on a range of development topics, and believe that I showcased our programs well. My advice to anyone with this opportunity is to go for it, be confident, and be prepared.
What’s your favorite thing about being an Office Ninja?
My favorite thing about being an Office Ninja is being a part of an organization that empowers Administrative+ professionals! This is a perfect fit for me as empowering others is my entrepreneurial quality, after all. I love being a part of this community, and I take pride in contributing my talents to make it even better.
Tonya Carter loves her Admin+ job and it shows. Did her experiences resonate with you because you love yours, too? Or maybe you’re feeling inspired to explore new ways to elevate your role? Let us know what you’re taking away from Tonya’s story!
Onyx generously gifted each All-Star winner with a luxury gift package.
We want to hear from you!
Take a few minutes to congratulate 2021 All-Star, Tonya Carter, and share what her story means to you. And if you have a question for Tonya, please include it with your comment.